9 Books to Help You Understand Your Anxiety

Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

Welcome to the United States of Anxiety by Jen Lancaster.

New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster is here with a witty and candid reflection to help us chart a path out of the quagmire that keeps us frightened of the future. From the moment Americans wake up, we’re bombarded with bad news. We’re expected to base our self-worth on social media likes. How do we begin to calm down and feel okay? Take a deep breath, and Jen’s advice, and you just might be able to chill out. Read Welcome to the United States of Anxiety.

When the history books are written about 2020, I’m betting the word “anxiety” will come up a lot. Whether it’s the panic buying of toilet paper or the nagging worry that even a much-needed hug is potentially dangerous, there’s a lot to be anxious about, from the slightly frivolous to the downright depressing. But of course, even without the pandemic, there would have been plenty of causes for anxiety in 2020 – the U.S. election, yes, but also in the general course of being human and loving other humans. As with so many things, though: part of the solution is books! Here’s a selection of books about anxiety to help you manage it and begin to heal.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Book Riot’s own Rebecca Schinsky loves this book, and that’s what led me to it. Back before she was quite as famous, Cheryl Strayed wrote a wise, compassionate column at The Rumpus called Dear Sugar, addressing many of the issues that cause anxiety in us, and this book collects them in one handy volume. She reads her own audiobook, too and her voice is full of empathy.

Things You Think About When You Bite Your Nails by Amalia Andrade

Available in English and Spanish, this is a beautifully illustrated workbook about fear – how it works, how it develops from childhood, and how it can morph into adult anxiety. Mari Andrew calls it funny and compassionate, “a must-have companion that reminds us how much power we actually have over our own lives.”

Create Your Own Calm by Meera Lee Patel 

This illustrated journal is a beautiful and helpful tool for self-care. If you liked her previous book, Start Where You Are, pick up this great follow up.

Everything Isn’t Terrible by Kathleen Smith

The publication of this book by licensed therapist and mental health writer Kathleen Smith at the very end of 2019 was certainly timely. It’s divided into four sections: your anxious self, your anxious relationships, your anxious career, and your anxious world. Each one humorously and helpfully addresses practical topics like social media, politics and religion, job hunting, and dating.

It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn

If anxiety runs in your family, you might find it helpful to explore generational patterns and causes to understand yourself better and start to heal.

Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel

If you’ve been around the bookish world for any length of time, chances are you’ve run into Anne Bogel – or Modern Mrs Darcy, as her popular blog refers to her. She has one of the most soothing voices in podcasting and reads the audiobook of Don’t Overthink It herself. If what ifs and indecision are part of your anxiety cycle, you’ll likely find this book really helpful.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Part memoir, part self-help, Matt Haig’s book chronicling his journey through depression and anxiety is an international bestseller. It’s positive and life-affirming, and if you like it, there’s more, with his follow-up, Notes on a Nervous Planet, which zooms out from his struggle to look at the anxiety of modern life.

I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi

This memoir in essays by Nigerian American immigrant slam poet Bassey Ikpi is an intimate and honest look at a multi-faceted life, through the prism of her anxiety and bipolar II diagnosis.

This Annoying Life by Oslo Davis

Sometimes, slowing down to breathe and focus on something other than what we’re anxious about can really help – something like colouring. You can even pair it with an audiobook for maximum immersion in another world. And if all you want to do is take your frustration out with messy scribbles, this book makes that fine, too.